Every month should be “Mental Health Month”, but as it happens, Mental Health America (www.mentalhealthamerica.net) has been celebrating it since 1949. Today, I wanted to take a moment to honor a very important part of mental health, mindfulness!
For way too long, I was convinced that taking up a personal mindfulness practice like meditation was a complicated undertaking that would require a full eight hours of sleep, a dedicated space in which to practice, a smattering of herbs and oils to ingest and smell, and possibly a whole new daily routine. One in which I would wake up rested due to the Ayurvedic nightly routine I’d taken up, sipping home ground nut milks laced with magic spices and spraying my sheets with lavender oils. I’d wake up, take a peaceful few minutes to myself while sipping herbal tea, leisurely make my way up to a bright meditation room filled with plants and smelling of whatever essential oil would stimulate whatever chakra I needed to that day. I’d mediate, breathe, move and become one with the universe all before 9 a.m.
It’s no wonder that I became so overwhelmed by the thought of daily meditation that I just simply did not do it. And while it’s true, an Ayurvedic (traditional yogic medicine) lifestyle is wonderful to prevent disease and a cluttered mind, it’s also true that every journey begins with a single step. I guess my first step to a mindfulness practice was sunglasses and a hoodie. I had been taking yoga classes more regularly than I had my whole life around the time I turned 30. I was going through a divorce, managing two jobs, and decided it would be a perfect time to go back to school.
Are you familiar with those five minutes at the end of every class? Savasana? Well, these regular five minutes of mindfulness had cleared just enough space in my cluttered, worried mind to help me notice when I was feeling overwhelmed throughout my days. The peacefulness Savasana brought me was no doubt enjoyable, but becoming more aware of my Self in the moments outside of these five minutes was kind of overwhelming at times. I’d become so disconnected from my own voice that managing my wants and needs as well as those of the people around me became too much to handle. I started noticing when and how interactions with others and people’s moods and energy changed my own. I was suddenly aware of how a tinge of anxiety in the morning could explode into a full-blown panic attack by evening. I felt the very vulnerable and exposed feelings associated with learning something new.
So, per the advice of another yogi, I started popping on a pair of sunglasses or covering my head with a hoodie when I was feeling overwhelmed. This simple act of dimming my eyes from the outside world helped me turn inward and hear my voice more clearly. In times of panic, when I usually could not hear my voice at all, I could suddenly sense myself relaxing and becoming assured of what step to take next.
That next step was five minutes of breathing and sitting while observing all the many feelings (physical, mental, spiritual) my Self had vibrating inside. I mostly would do this in the morning, before I allowed myself to become covered in the obligations of the pending day. Creating a space that I didn’t immediately have to fill made my thoughts rise to my consciousness with a lot more ease.
Sometimes when I talk with people about meditation I think about a time when my life was… messy. On top of all my worries and stress, I’d been searching for an overdue library book for weeks, possibly months. One day I finally resigned myself to go to my local library branch and pay for the book I’d lost. Once I paid for the book, neatly letting go of any responsibility for penalty for it, I returned to my car, put the key in the ignition and immediately remembered I’d put the book in my glove compartment weeks prior and totally forgotten about it.
Meditation is a lot like that. We’ve got so much going on, the intuition inside us that tells us “Hey, remember THIS about this thing (or yourself)” is smooshed down, spinning like sediment at the bottom of a whirlpool. When we stop moving, observe the slowing down of the whirlpool that is our Self, that sediment, the things we desperately need to recall about our true Selves (or a missing library book) bubble to the surface.
I think, like most people, I started using meditation as a means to fix myself when I felt overwhelmed. This isn’t wrong, but I do feel like it was a second step for me on my way to a regular, more consistent, deeply satisfying meditation practice. If we only come to our mindfulness practices like meditation when we’re feeling that we need to be fixed, we’re not honoring spending time with the whole and perfect people we actually are.
Do I still often come to my meditation practice to help calm and “fix me”? YES, like 90% of the time. But I’m getting so much better at trusting myself, knowing that I do not need to “fix” myself. I find life more enjoyable than before I started this journey into mindfulness! It’s like I found this friendship with myself and now things that would have eaten me up inside or weighed heavily on me and made me feel like I needed to share them with others to help the feeling go away, I can handle and process so easily.
And I still feel myself growing. I don’t react with feelings first. Before, I’d react and think (and often apologize) later. I do that less now. I trust myself and I love myself and I hope and trust this sort of love is evident for those I get to share my mindfulness practice and yin yoga with each week at The Hot Room. Have I encountered the full-blown “magical liniments and herbs” part of my mindfulness journey yet? No! Who knows if I ever will. However, I’m extremely satisfied by the easiest steps forward that I’ve taken so far. If you’re thinking of starting a mindfulness and meditation practice, you might be surprised to find that you already have started it! Keep going!